PROVO — One might best describe the recent BYU women's basketball season as a year of struggles, especially coming off back-to-back regular-season Mountain West Conference championships.

During 2007-08, BYU struggled with slow starts, including 11-point first halves in lopsided losses at UConn and San Diego State and an early 22-0 deficit while getting routed at home by Utah.

BYU struggled with finishing, with the Cougars' concluding five-loss skid and 2-8 effort over their final 10 games resulting in a 13-16 overall record and a 7-9 MWC mark — only its second sub-.500 mark in league history.

Perhaps the biggest struggle was a lack of leadership, which took a big hit when point guard Haley Hall and forward Mary Martha Abell each suffered a second season-ending ACL injury in as many years — Hall hopes to return for her sophomore season.

"It was a very difficult year — we had a lot of ups and downs," said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins. "We had moments where we played very good basketball and moments where we didn't play very good at all."

Individually, second-team all-MWC guard Mallary Gillespie-Carling finished her four-year career as the second-best 3-point shooter in league history (250 treys) as well as No. 13 in points scored (1,402), No. 18 in assists (312) and No. 29 in steals (145).

And honorable mention all-MWC center Lauren Riley-Varley led the Mountain West in rebounding (8.4 a game), ending up No. 10 in the league in career blocked shots (94) and No. 15 in rebounding (673).

But those two and a third veteran starter, junior swingman Shawnee Slade, seemed limited in extending their play beyond individual strengths. A sharpshooting perimeter sniper, Carling sometimes seemed bothered as the opposing defense's focal point. A frenzied force inside, Varley infrequently flashed offensive finesse. And the athletic Slade struggled to gain and sustain confidence in her shot.

The veteran trio were BYU's top three individual scorers in only three games this season; in 18 games, the Cougars had only one or none of its seasoned starting threesome in double-figure points.

Also graduating is forward Ashley Cheesman, a part-time starter who in the season's final month became a clutch offensive and defensive contributor.

Slade is one of three returning seniors-to-be, joined by backup frontliner Cassie King and transfer Sarah Red, who saw key minutes late in her first Cougar season. Other than reserve juniors-to-be Jaime Judkins and Amy Alleto, the rest of BYU's current roster consists of soon-to-be sophomores and incoming freshmen.

Mindy Nelson enjoyed the most first-year success, with the gritty guard third on the team in scoring, first in assists and steals and second in blocks. Another two freshman — forward Keilani Moeaki and guard Jazmine Foreman — each started nine games and showed flashes of promise, as did reserve freshmen Coriann Wood and Megan Marks.

Ready to re-emphasize consistency in effort, execution and confidence next season, Judkins will welcome in four new signees — Kristen Riley, Varley's younger sister and a standout prep frontliner from San Clemente, Calif.; the Skyline High tandem of forward Danielle Peterson and guard Jenteal Jackson; and Timpview High forward Alexis Kaufusi.

Season at a glance

Final record: 13-16 overall, 7-9 MWC

Postseason: BYU lost 59-41 in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals to eventual tourney champ New Mexico.

Starters lost: Shooting guard Mallary Gillespie-Carling (13.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), center Lauren Riley-Varley (7.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg), forward Ashley Cheesman (2.7 pgg, 2.6 rpg).

Starters returning: Forward Shawnee Slade (7.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg), guard Mindy Nielson (7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg).

Season highlight: Upsetting No. 15 Wyoming 56-42 at home 56-42 and ending as the NCAA's No. 8 team in field-goal defense, allowing 35.1 percent shooting.

Season lowlight: There is the 11-point first half in an embarrassing 80-34 loss at powerhouse UConn, a first-ever loss to Air Force or an early 22-0 deficit in the 80-49 home loss to Utah — but the real lowlight was the Cougars managing only two victories in the season's final 10 games.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com